Why You Can Trust the Text of the New Testament

Recently a student of mine told me about someone who claimed he could never be a Christian because manuscripts of the New Testament have undergone so many changes through the centuries that it’s impossible to really know what the New Testament authors really said.  I wish I’d been there to set him straight!

The fact is that the writings of the New Testament are better attested by far than any other ancient works without exception.  Today we have manuscripts copied far closer to the time of the original autographs and in far greater numbers than for any classical work of history or literature.  Although there are numerous minor variants among the manuscripts (as is always the case in hand-copied writings), none of the variations bring into question any matters of doctrine.

For a brief overview of the facts, read this interview with Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading experts in the comparative analysis of manuscripts, a discipline called textual criticism. Not only does Wallace explain the reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament text, he reports the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from the first century, an incredible find if it stands up to scholarly examination when it will be published in the near future.


  1. rgrebenc says:

    Thank you for this post. The interview gives a number of resources for further reading, but I was wondering about several others related to this topic which I have been considering purchasing: “Is the New Testament Reliable?” by Paul Barnett, “The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, And Authority” by Lee Martin McDonald, and “The Canon of Scripture”
    by F. F. Bruce. Any opinion on these?

  2. Peter S. Williamson says:

    I’ve looked at the Barnett book and thought it was good. F.F. Bruce is always quite good. Both are evangelical Protestants. In the case of the book on the canon, that is a limitation from a Catholic point of view, since Protestants exclude the Greek writings of the Old Testament and don’t fully acknowledge the role of Catholic Church authority in establishing the canon. But on the historical development of the canon, I suspect Bruce is quite reliable.
    I’m not personally familiar with the McDonald book.


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